The War of Andrew's Arsehole: Neil vs. GB News vs. Murdoch vs. the numbers of Mr Beast...

The conflicts between ageing figures in traditional media look silly when you consider how new moguls are quietly making millions.

There’s a hackneyed old line about the Iran/Iraq War about wishing both sides could lose. That’s how I feel about the growing animosity between ageing mahogany-stained malcontent Andrew Neil — who appeared on the BBC’s Question Time looking like the Oompa Loompas’ union-hating strike-breaking overseer — and his former empire of dust (and skin flakes) GB News, from which he’s having a slow separation after concluding its brand of simmering racism, chest-thumping xenophobia and continual culture war twattery is not as classy as the kind offered by his beloved Spectator.

On Thursday’s episode of Question Time — during which he received such a shellacking from the poised and prepared Nels Abbey that he ended the programme looking like he’d had several more layers of Ronseal applied to his face — Neil began the process of tacking away from GB News and angling for an imperious return to the BBC. That, I fear, is inevitable under the appeasing leadership of current Director-General and former Tory council candidate, Tim Davie, who had been desperate to retain Neil.

After the decade’s greatest understatement (he described GB News’ launch — a barrage of technical errors, incompetent presentation, and barely-concealed hatred between co-presenters — as “not a startling success”) Neil said:

I had always made it clear that [GB News] wouldn’t be a British Fox News and I think you could do something different without going anywhere near Fox. Fox deals in untruths, it deals in conspiracy theories and it deals in fake news. That’s not my kind of journalism and I would never have set out to do that.

There’s more naked gall there than an orgy at an Asterix convention. As I’ve previously covered, Andrew Neil led a campaign of AIDS denialism while editor of The Sunday Times, hired David Irving to work on the Goebbels Diaries at the same publication, has a chummy relationship with the conspiracy theory-wielding government of Hungary, and has been chairman of The Spectator, home to a cabal of columnists whose frequently racist output’s relationship with the truth resembles Boris Johnson’s to paternity tests, for the past 13 years.

Neil — whose seemingly contractually mandated twice-weekly appearances on Nigel Farage’s GB News show have all the spontaneity of a hostage video delivered by a man chained to a radiator — continued:

More and more differences emerged between myself and the other senior managers and the board of GB News. Rather than these differences narrowing, they got wider and wider and I felt it was best that if that’s the route they wanted to take then that’s up to them, it’s their money. The route is what I think you can see on GB News at the moment, people should make up their own minds what they want to watch.

I thought it wasn’t for me, I had wanted a different route – it doesn’t mean that I’m right or they’re wrong but it certainly was a difference.The differences were such that the direction they were going in was not the direction that I had outlined, it was not the direction I had envisaged for the channel.

But I was in a minority of one, so it’s doing what it’s doing and it’s up to them. Good luck to them if that’s what they want to do.

The conciliatory tone plastered over the underlying nudge, nudge, wink, wink “you draw your own conclusions” content was not enough to stop GB News from replying to Neil’s comments shortly after Question Time finished.

Continuing the clumsy shade of its comments after Neil’s resignation as GB News chairman and lead presenter (a ludicrous title since he only showed up for 8 editions of the programme the bore his name), the channel tweeted:

During last night’s BBC Question Time, a number of demonstrably untrue remarks were made about GB News. We stand for fair debate, tolerance, free speech and factual journalism. There are always more than two sides to any story and we believe in listening to all of them.

We look forward to welcoming Andrew Neil back on GB News on Monday for his regular appearance.

Just a few tweets later, GB News was promoting an appearance by extremely current comedian Bobby Davro on Mark Dolan’s carnival of conspiracy theories, culture war barking, and abstracted anger that the year is no longer 1980.

Davro told Dolan he’s “no fan of wokeism” and used his appearance on a national news channel — albeit one only watched by the deluged and deranged — to talk about how he has been silenced and turned into “a victim of political correctness”. You can catch Bobby being silenced nightly — and twice on Saturdays — at the Lyceum Theatre, Crewe throughout December and January in Sleeping Beauty, presuming the woke brigade don’t silence that.1


Neil’s enforced appearances with Farage are even more painful than watching an ageing comedian bolstering his reactionary audience by gurning for Dolan, whose career-high was presenting Channel 4’s Balls of Steel. They almost make it worth briefly tuning in to see Neil, resembling a monster made of conkers from an abandoned and unscreened Miyazaki film, pretending not to despise the man who took his position as ‘star’ of GB News.

Farage’s show is the broadcasting equivalent of a flat-roof pub, with him as the nicotine-stained till-skimming landlord, who adores being called “bar-keep”, and is always ready with a racist joke that he’ll drop to a whisper if anyone darker than a Milky Bar wanders into the Heron & Swastika by mistake. Neil agrees with many of the things Farage believes but his discomfort at having to be his guest is palpable and almost delicious.

Previously the only reason to watch GB News was in the hope Simon McCoy would finally snap and scream a Howard Beale-in-Network style rant after having to hear what former UKIP MEP Alex Phillips ‘reckoned’ about a news story. But that pair have now been separated with McCoy shunted off to the breakfast show and Phillips given a solo spot (“We Need To Talk About…”) where she can deliver her fact-free monologues without interference from anyone who remotely knows what they’re talking about.

Thankfully, Gloria de Piero and Liam Halligan are still chained together for their show in which they pretend to like each other while having all the chemistry of a long-divorced couple where the restraining orders have lapsed in time for their daughter’s wedding but whose burning resentment over who got custody of the Nespresso machine abides.

What’s clear from Neil’s attempts to distance himself from GB News is that his issue is not with the underlying content but with the presentation. He prefers his racism, conspiracy theories, and cheap culture war lines with the thin layer of prestige offered by a Spectator byline. There is very little difference between the views presented by Dan Wootton and Rod Liddle other than that latter is chuckled at by the ‘right’ people on the Right because he peddles his hatred, racism, cruelty and spite beneath The Spectator and Sunday Times masthead.

Neil’s scowl ratched up beyond 11 as Nels Abbey told him that he had thrown away the credibility conveyed upon him by his time as the BBC’s ‘big’ political interviewer by skipping off to GB News, throwing brickbats at the “mainstream” media as he went. I think Abbey — who I spoke to yesterday — did a fantastic job of holding Neil to account within the constraints of Question Time — he didn’t have the time nor the support in the room to delve into Neil’s past of AIDS denialism, for instance — and made the ‘great’ interrogator squirm for once.

It was unsurprising that Neil, so willing to go in for the kill as an interviewer, immediately accused Abbey of “abusing” him. This is the same Andrew Neil who told The Evening Standard back in June, while he was doing publicity for the soon-to-launch GB News, that there were too many “po-faced people who take themselves too seriously.” With every word that Abbey spoke, the proportion of po on Neil’s face increased.

He also reached for a classic bit of rhetoric used by public figures — with extensive records in print and on-screen — complaining to Abbey that:

For someone who’s never met me, you seem to know a hell of a lot about me… being abused by you is a privilege in its own way… and when you do your homework maybe you’ll come back and apologise and we can have a sensible conversation.

Neil avoided engaging with any of the content of Abbey’s criticism, preferring instead to whine about his tone and pretend that it’s impossible to make an assessment of someone who has spent 48 years working in the media without meeting them. You see when Andrew Neil criticises someone that’s “analysis” but when someone else does it to him it’s “abuse” and requires an apology.

As wrote both here and for Byline Times, the imminent arrival of Rupert Murdoch’s talkTV with Piers Morgan at its heart will likely put GB News on the first plane to Dignitas. Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford predicts that News Corp will acquire GB News and absorb it into its new channel. I think its more likely that Murdoch will pick off the ‘talent’ he wants — possibly including Farage and former Sun demon Dan Wootton — before joyfully watching GB News die a painful death, an example to others who try to challenge his hegemony over the UK’s broadcast supply of right-wing spite.

These battles — GB News vs. Andrew Neil, Rupert Murdoch vs. GB News, Piers Morgan vs. the vast majority of humanity — are old wars fought with old weapons (newspapers and broadcast television) by old soldiers whose war crimes are well-documented and whose ends are tantalising close and yet still far too far away.

While Morgan’s £50 million deal with Murdoch for books, TV, newspaper columns and the rest is huge news for traditional media correspondents, new-generation media mogul Mr Beast (who has 121 million subscribers and 17.3 billion views across his YouTube empire) quietly announced this week that he’s building a $10 million studio complex that will become one of the biggest sound stages on the East Coast. Beast (aka Jimmy Donaldson) is just 23-years-old and spent $48 million producing YouTube videos last year. His output has received 700m views in the last four weeks.

Compare Mr Beast’s 700 million views in a month with the pettifogging arguments about whether GB News — with its sustained broadcast viewing figures hovering at about 38,000 and its YouTube subscribers at a relatively low 262k — can survive. GB News is like a hobby compared to the vast reach and revenue of figures like Mr Beast. It’s an online blip, a niche concern for the kind of people who explain their collection of Nazi memorabilia by muttering about being “really interested in history”.

Back in August, Ryan Broderick showed in an edition of his newsletter Garbage Day that Vice, which is still viewed as a huge media corporation and had just announced yet more layoffs and restructuring, is actually quite ridiculous when compared with the business model of another YouTuber — Logan Paul:

… there are usually about 3-5 people working just on his podcast IMPAULSIVE. They usually have a head of production, a PA, and a director. Those people are paid salaries (that are pretty decent I’ve heard) and, just based on YouTube traffic driving ad revenue, the show seems to make its own money. According to a YouTube revenue calculator I used, the main channel makes about $3,600 a video and another clips channel Paul runs is making about $1,000 a video. The episodes also have in-show sponsors. The podcast is filmed, usually runs about an hour, and comes out once or twice a week. And if you zoom out and look at Logan Paul’s entire YouTube footprint, he has about 31 million subscribers across about four channels.

Now, let’s compare all that to VICE. Their main channel has about 14 million subscribers, and then an additional 20 million or so spread across nine other English-language channels. So let’s say a total audience of about 25 million. It’s nothing to shake a stick at, but also, from a business standpoint, what makes it any different than Logan Paul? You can actually do this with any big influencer and any digital media company and the results almost every time make the digital media company look ridiculously inefficient and bad by comparison.

Now compare Vice’s metrics to GB News and it becomes apparent just how minuscule it is as an operation.

I write about and analyse GB News’ actions and output not because it’s a good business — it’s definitely not — but because it exists to shift the window of what’s acceptable in public debate. Murdoch’s talkTV will be more polished and professional but it will serve the same purpose: Giving Murdoch another way of exerting political pressure and shaping the public debate.

In the Iran/Iraq battle between GB News and Rupert Murdoch, the latter will win, but in the long term, both will eventually lose. Murdoch’s acquisitions in digital media — from MySpace onwards — have been patchy at best. When he’s gone, his successor — most likely Lachlan — won’t have the killer instinct of his father nor the creative spark of a new generation of moguls who are no more morally pure but understand how to make big things with small teams.

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This is issue no. 520 of Conquest of the Useless. Please consider upgrading to a paid subscription if you enjoy these newsletters.

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Don’t worry, newly-installed Culture Secretary and Panto Ombudsman, Nadine Dorries, won’t let that happen.